Are miraculous spiritual gifts for today? A Reformed Baptist perspective

In light of last year’s Strange Fire controversies, this felt like a relevant topic to talk about (several months have passed since I first thought of posting this, sorry). A few years ago, Michael Horton wrote a great piece on the tension between the Reformed tradition and the relatively new Charismatic tradition. It is long, but you should read it here. If at least 50 people ask me to write a book on these issues, I will try to give it a more scholarly attempt in the future. For now, I will try to tackle his article piece by piece over several posts. There is a lot more I agree with him on than that I disagree with him on.

Let me put that last sentence in context: I am currently a continuationist (meaning, I believe God could give the spiritual gifts of tongues, interpretation, and prophecy to the 21st century local church). Michael Horton is a cessationist (meaning he believes God gave the gifts of tongues, interpretation, and prophecy only for the time of the Apostles). But on the issue of miraculous spiritual gifts (like tongues, interpretation, and prophecy), there is a lot more I agree with him on that that I disagree with him on. You’ll see, hopefully.

Here is a great paragraph by Horton, in challenging the views of men like Mark Driscoll and C.J. Mahaney:

There is much to admire in these men and their labors. I am not targeting these friends and brothers, but pleading with them—and with all of us—to rediscover the ordinary means of grace, ordinary ministry, ordinary offices, and to long for a genuine revival: that is, a surprising blessing of God on his ordinary ministry in our day. The false choice between head and heart, the Spirit and the Word, has been a perennial polemic of the radical wing of Protestantism. Mark Driscoll’s plea above reveals that dangerous separation of the Spirit from his Word. Only by assuming such a cleavage can one argue that Reformed theology ignores the Holy Spirit.

He was referring to a quote by Mark Driscoll, in which Driscoll accuses Presbyterians of often ignoring the Holy Spirit. I agree wholeheartedly with Horton on the false dichotomies that Charismatic believers pose.

I also agree with these statements:

Reformed theology is not just the “five points” and “sovereign grace,” but a rich, full, and systematic confession. It’s a human and therefore fallible attempt to wrestle with the whole counsel of God—in both doctrine and practice, soteriology and ecclesiology.

I think people should not call themselves “Reformed” if they are not in a Reformed church (or at least a church moving in that direction). Pastors cannot be personally “Reformed” but not try to reform the church. Church members cannot be personally “Reformed” while the pastors hate Reformed theology. The fundamental issue in the Reformation was the church! Thank you, Michael Horton, for clarity here.

Now just a quick note on where we start to have different trajectories. He writes concerning Ephesians 4.11:

Against both Rome and the radical Anabaptists, the Reformers argued that prophet and apostle are extraordinary offices, for a foundation-laying era. They are sent at key moments in redemptive history, and their writings are added to the canon of Scripture.

I agree that prophet and apostle are extraordinary offices. What is not clear from Ephesians 4, or the rest of Scripture, is that the office of apostle and prophet are to be equated with those whose writings are added to the canon of Scripture. I am not sure if that is exactly what Horton was saying or not. Clearly, the writings of Apostles and Prophets make up the canon of Scripture. But it is not clear that the 13 epistles of Paul are the only 13 letters he ever wrote, or that John never wrote anything besides John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation. And not all the prophets and all the Apostles contribute to the canon. Those two offices cannot be equated with “writers of Scripture.” Again, I do not know if Horton was trying to argue for that, but confusion on this issue leads to the (what I think is naive) argument that “prophecy cannot exist today because the canon is closed.”

The canon is closed. But I do not think that means prophecy cannot then exist. Since Horton’s article then moves to examine prophecy, that will probably be what I do next.

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